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IPSA blog > Month of ideas > Posts > Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission - What should MPs receive by way of salary and pension?
 

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July 05
Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission - What should MPs receive by way of salary and pension?

When asked what attracted him to politics, one former cabinet minister apparently replied that it was the only career that offered money, power and fame. 

Some Members of Parliament may object to the money claim. Privately, of course, because £65,000 a year puts them safely in the higher tax bracket, but it is still much less than lobbyists paid to influence them can expect to earn. Travelling back and forth between constituency and Parliament (for non-London based MPs) also means their hourly rate is significantly lower than most on a similar salary. 
 
A new MP slogging it out on the backbenches may also object to the power claim. Many probably feel the special advisers – some not long out of university – exert a lot more power than they ever will.
 
As for fame – given the MPs’ expenses scandal, infamy may be a better tag. If it’s fame you’re after, The Only Way is Essex is likely to offer more recognition and less public humiliation.
 
If you asked most MPs what attracted them to politics, most would say public service. I think that’s true for most of them.  The MPs I know best are motivated by the most selfless of reasons. They want to change the world around them.
 
As Sir Ian Kennedy embarks on his review of MPs’ pay and pensions, I wonder if this is an opportunity to also reflect on who we are seeking to attract to public office.  
 
Research shows it will take another 200 years (or 40 elections) to achieve 50/50 male/female representation in the House of Commons and until 2080 for the number of ethnic minority MPs to reflect Britain’s current population.
 
The last Parliament established a Speakers’ Conference on representation – it considered among other things the lack of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in both Houses. It did not tackle the vexed issue of social class.
 
Parliament can be a harsh environment for anyone but someone who is “different” – a women, disabled, ethnic minority, gay – may need a thicker skin than most. Many of the pioneers who have broken into this white, non-disabled, straight boys club have previously succeeded in another career – perhaps as a lawyer, trade unionists or running their own business.  A decent salary doesn’t mitigate against hostility, or make being the odd one out any easier – but when we are asking people to put themselves forward for this potentially hostile environment, asking them to take a significant pay cut too isn’t sweetening the pill.
 
Finally, perhaps, there is a crucial issue that the debate about salary levels and expenses doesn’t address, but what is probably more important to some non-traditional candidates than any other:  security.  Being an MP is one of the least secure jobs you could think of; and keeping it doesn’t, these days, rest on your past performance in most cases.  For the children and grandchildren of immigrants brought  up with the constant drumbeat of fear that your precarious hold on a new home could be broken by some accident of fate and politics, the glory of the mother of Parliaments can pale into insignificance set against the safe continuity of a doctor or teacher’s pension scheme.  On the face of it, there is little that can be done; no one can guarantee MPs a seat for ever; but a little more attention to the exit door and where it leads could pay some dividends.
 
Let’s put aside any sneering about what MPs do. Let’s assume we want hard working and honest people motivated by public service. MPs are not in it for the money – there are much easier ways to earn £65,000 a year which does not involve the risk of putting your family through public inquisition. 
 
Like everyone else MPs have bills to pay and mouths to feed so the position should not be unpaid. Of course the position should be an honour to hold but an unpaid position will only attract the super wealthy and the role would be treated like voluntary work alongside well remunerated board positions. The earnings of MPs should be linked to that of comparable professions – headteachers, GPs, leaders of local authorities.
 
We want Parliament to attract the brightest and best. But we also need to attract people from more diverse backgrounds than is currently the case. 

 

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